Tue, Jul 03, 2012 - Page 5 News List

Taxi scheme for drunken drivers skids on legalities

PUSHING THE LIMIT:A substitute driver program launched three years ago has failed to take off, with taxi drivers citing ongoing concerns over insurance

By Tsai Wei-chi  /  Staff reporter

In an effort to curb drunk driving, Taipei City’s Department of Transportation said it is gathering opinions from taxi drivers’ unions and companies to formulate an acceptable service charge for the department’s planned improvements to the substitute driver service.

The service usually involves a taxi firm sending two vehicles from its fleet to the passenger who requested a pick-up, with one of the drivers leaving his or her vehicle and driving the passenger’s car, while the other taxi follows and records the journey with a dashboard-mounted camera.

“In light of the rampant incidences of drunk driving and concerns of competition over the service, we would like to discuss with all companies and unions how to make the service more transparent and implement regulations,” department chief Lin Chih-ying (林志盈) said.

While the rates and regulations will not be mandatory, it is thought members of the public would be more receptive if government agencies and private companies discussed the issue, Lin said, adding it would also ensure that any regulations and rates agreed upon would be reasonable.

Lin’s concerns over the issue of competition is explained by the existing policy of substitute driving, implemented three years ago, that governs Taiwanese taxi fleets.

According to Taiwan Taxi, its current designated driver service costs NT$1,000 for the first 15km with an additional NT$100 for every kilometer afterward.

The service receives 150 calls per month, nearly half the amount it got when the service was started, said the company’s general manager, Lee Chung-shu (李瓊淑) said, citing lack of promotion as one reason for the decrease while adding that drivers were concerned at the service’s potential for causing problems, such as car accidents or personal items left behind.

“If the department takes the lead in outlining regulations and setting prices, we’re willing to cooperate,” she said, adding that there was little to no room for a drop in price.

Wu Chun-te (吳俊德), general manager of the Crown Taxi firm, said there were too many gray areas in the designated driver service.

Drivers usually only take on customers with whom they are familiar and there were not that many calls for the service per month, he said.

Substitute driving is a good business idea, but taxi drivers are often worried because driving someone else’s car would be very problematic in case of an accident, Wu said.

For example, if the car being driven by the substitute driver ends up in an accident and is not insured, the driver would not only not earn anything for the journey, but might also have to spend additional time and money to resolve any resultant problems, Wu said.

“We talked with insurance companies before in the hope of insuring substitute drivers, but the insurance companies felt that the risks involved were too high and were unwilling to provide insurance,” Wu said.

If the department could negotiate with insurance companies and the Ministry of Finance could provide substitute drivers with short-term insurance cover, it would give taxi companies the incentive to promote the substitute driver service, he added.

If there is an accident involving a substitute driver, the first thing is to verify which party bears the greater responsibility for causing the accident, said Shang Chin-tang (尚錦堂), chief of the department’s General Transportation Section.

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